Former Russian forces commander in Georgia unhappy about pullout

RIA Novosti, Russia
June 2 2005

MOSCOW, June 2 (RIA Novosti) - Withdrawing its military bases from
Georgia is a major geopolitical loss for Russia, says Lieutenant
General Yuri Netkachev, who once served as deputy commander of
Russia's Task Force in the Transcaucasia, Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kuryer,
a weekly, reported.

"They will sweep off our bases, and the Turks, or Americans, or
whoever will come after us. The niche will be filled," he told the
Russian defense weekly.

Netkachev complained about the lack of a consistent state policy in
the post-Soviet territories for the last decade. Georgian President
Mikhail Saakashvili offends Russia and its citizens, imposes various
restrictions on the Russian military in Georgia, while Moscow just
says it will fire back with sanctions and never does, he said.

"At first we said it will take us 11 years to go, now we have agreed to
four years," he said, adding the pullout from Batumi and Akhalkalaki,
where the two Russian bases are deployed, will be far from smooth.

"The locals will just not let us go. Akhalkalaki is a mostly
Armenian-populated place, and they would rather separate from Georgia
than let the people and equipment return to Russia. The same thing
can be said for Batumi. Our bases there mean jobs for people, a factor
of stability."

Netkachev predicts that Saakashvili will wage war on Georgia's
breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia before the ink
dries on the pullout agreement.

"With his hands untied, Saakashvili will begin war first against
South Ossetia, then with Abkhazia," he said. "Is this not why he
has tripled his military budget? They are buying tanks, warplanes,
helicopters, which all promise a big war in the future. The Ossetians
and the Abkhaz will never let go of their land in Georgia."

Netkachev said most people living in these provinces have Russian

The 3,000-man Russian task force deployed in Georgia has 150 battle
tanks, 240 armored vehicles and 140 artillery systems.